What Everybody Ought to Know About Choosing the Best Survival Backpack

What Everybody Ought to Know About Choosing the Best Survival Backpack

By Brandon Hunt

What Would Rambo Choose?

Working at Emergency Zone I think a lot about preparing for unexpected situations. 

I ask myself questions like, what kind of survival pack would Rambo carry? ( Hey, I was a kid in the 80’s and Rambo was an icon). 

Now I have to try and answer that question.

Well, I’m sure Rambo wouldn’t carry any kind of sissy survival pack. It would be simple in design, wouldn’t draw attention to itself --- because it would be a stealth pack --- and the capacity would be large enough to carry his famous survival knife. He’s a minimalist kind of guy.

But what about the rest of us, you know, who aren’t Rambo, and who need to carry a few more items for survival? How do we know if we’re getting a quality survival pack? 

A lot of factors play a part in choosing a backpack. However, let's focus on one element that determines the durability of every backpack.

A Survival Pack Is Only As Good As Its Fabric

A major determination of what makes a good survival pack depends on the fabric. A backpack is only as good as the material it’s made from. You want a durable pack that can go the distance.

When you buy a backpack you want to know it will resist wear and tear. The last thing you want is your survival pack falling apart in the field while using it.

Whenever I buy a backpack, I think of how I’m going to use it. That’s my main factor in choosing. On the other hand, I occasionally get a pack simply because it looks cool; it’s the aesthetic appearance that hooks me.

The Right Pack...

Choosing the right pack depends on so many features, such as design, purpose, number of pockets, carrying capacity, and durability.

To me, my number one concern is the strength of the backpack. How well will it hold up? Will  it out last the rigors I put it through? 

In my opinion, the first thing to scrutinize is the material the backpack is made from. After all, a pack is only as good as the material it’s made from.

So, let’s take a look at the various fabrics used in backpacks. I hope this will help you with choosing the best survival/emergency pack for you.

Types of Fabric

Backpacks are made from a variety of fabrics, which some have been around for a while, and other fabrics are of newer material created through technology and innovative methods. 

It goes without saying that durability of fabric will influence the cost of the backpack. If you're looking for a cheap backpack, then expect cheap material and a shorter life span.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but highlights the more common fabrics used in packs.

Cordura: Technically it’s not a single type of material, but is rather a brand name for quality materials and fabrics. Heavier and more rugged than nylon, it’s quite durable, resists abrasion and water. It’s often used at the base of backpacks for protection. Because of its strength, it’s sufficient for everyday-use types of packs.

Cotton Canvas: Back in the day this was the material of choice for packs. To make it water resistant cotton canvas packs were coated in wax. The packs are heavier and less resistant to abrasion. Still, it remains popular to this day, used for rucksacks and trendy packs for college hipsters.

Nylon: Once this material came on the scene, it quickly became the primary source material of backpacks. It’s a family of polymer synthetics that can be shaped into different forms through a melting process. Basically nylon is a plastic. It has better water resistance than cotton, but if punctured can tear easily. To reduce tearing, different weaves and patterns are used, thus creating….

Rip-Stop Nylon: The name says what it does. Nylon threads are sewn closely together in weaves and patterns to create fabric that doesn’t tear...easily. You’ll find many camping and hiking backpacks made of rip-stop nylon.

Polyester Pack Cloth: Polyester is a commonly used fabric because it’s great for holding color. You’ll recognize this in school backpacks for younger kids. Polyester packs are not as durable as nylon or canvas. Your lower end, cheaper packs are more often made of this.

Ballistic Nylon: Originally designed for military apparel during WW2, it’s a thick and durable nylon of a specific weave, giving it its strength. It was meant to protect airmen from flack and bullet shrapnel and saw limited use. It’s used in some packs, but not often due to the sewing requirements. More often you’ll find ballistic nylon in sports equipment, utility belts and motorcycle jackets.

Polypropylene: Is a widely used plastic. It is to be found in everything from ropes to carpets. Because it is a good insulator it has found use in backpacks. You might not find a pack completely made from polypropylene since it’s less resistant to UV light than other fabrics. Mostly used for parts and components of packs.

Dyneema: A more recent fabric used in backpacks, it’s a brand of ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene. It is strong, lightweight and a bit stiffer than other fabrics.

Fabrics of Choice

As far as best fabrics used for survival packs, nylon is the most prevalent and probably top choice. It reliably resists water; it’s quite durable and stands up to abrasion, and it's versatile.

I wouldn’t consider a canvas survival pack. It just wouldn’t hold up that well in a rugged, emergency situation. Honestly, could you see Rambo toting a canvas survival pack?

You might find some survival packs made of rip-stop nylon, though it would raise the cost a bit. However, if you’re creating your own Go-Bag, finding a pack made of rip-stop is not a bad idea. The durability and the extended life would make the pack worth it.


Given the choices of fabrics for packs, which the above list is not extensive, it’s clear that all have advantages and disadvantages. 

If you’re trying to decide on survival packs, even a little knowledge of fabrics will help you find the pack that fits your needs best.

And, if you still have trouble choosing a survival pack, ask yourself, what would Rambo choose?

Until next time, good luck and keep prepping.

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